By YS Chan
In 2011, I was invited to give a briefing on the local taxi services and industry at the Kuala Lumpur head office of Tan Chong Motor Holdings Berhad at Jalan Ipoh, which has been renamed Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah. Later, I was recalled to give my opinion and clarify matters.
The audience was a multinational group from the Harvard Business School MBA class of 2011. They were gathered there to work on a project which would later emerge as business track runner-up in a new venture competition by Harvard Business School in the U.S. for that year.
The group was led by none other than Anthony Tan. One of his Harvard Business School classmates was Nadiem Makarim, who later founded Gojek and is now Indonesia’s Education Minister. Together with Tokopedia, Gojek is aiming for a US$18 billion merger anytime soon.
Anthony is the son of Datuk Tan Heng Chew, president of Tan Chong Motor Holdings Berhad and grandson of the late Tan Sri Tan Yuet Foh, who co-founded Tan Chong & Sons Motor Company Limited in 1957 together with his brother, the late Tan Sri Tan Kim Hor.
What struck me most about Anthony was his genuine desire to provide safe transport for taxi passengers, especially for women at night. He even went to the extent of wanting to set up a company to provide affordable chauffeur-driven services.
From the 1980s onwards and with the mushrooming of large hotels, almost all limousine taxis were based at bigger hotels serving business travellers and upmarket tourists, with the Mercedes saloon being the de rigueur model for pampered hotel guests.
I advised that such a business is not viable in the local market, but he was more concerned with safety and wanted to do his utmost to contribute to society and went ahead with the service. Later, the manager for Chauffeur Safe came looking for me and I reiterated the same advice.
The failure of cheaper chauffeur-driven service resulted in negligible financial losses as no vehicles were purchased and overheads were minimal.
During the briefing, Anthony told me he was partnering with Maxis, a leading telco, to develop a mobile app for hailing taxis. At that time, there were hardly any taxi app but about 20 radio taxi companies competing with one another.
If they had pooled all their resources and operations and used one hotline number for the public to call, with all requests processed efficiently by a computerised reservations system, radio taxi service would have been super-efficient and won the hearts of frustrated taxi passengers.
For those who could still remember, radio taxis were almost impossible to get when they were needed most, such as during rush hours and made worst by rain. Some desperate passengers resorted to bribery by offering to pay cabbies an extra amount on top of the metered fare.
The scenario changed when Anthony launched MyTeksi, a taxi hailing app, on June 5, 2012 and worked extremely hard to convince traditional taxi drivers to sign up. Eight months later, Unicablink was launched by Sunlight, the leading taxi company, to compete with MyTeksi.
But Unicablink, a GPS system installed in the taxi and drivers need to pay a monthly fee, was no match for MyTeksi. For over two years, Anthony was happy to see the solid progress of MyTeksi, as the taxi app continued to gain popularity among taxi drivers and passengers.
In January 2014, Uber Black started its limousine service in Kuala Lumpur. To counter this, MyTeksi added GrabCar to its app in May, so that customers could opt for premier service. The addition of luxury vehicles other than standard taxis was well received in the market.
But on August 7, 2014, UberX entered the Malaysian market and stole the thunder from MyTeksi by offering cutthroat rates with RM1.50 as starting fare, RM12 per hour and 55 sen per km, when regulated fares for budget taxis were RM3, RM17.14 and 87 sen respectively.
Taxi passengers began switching in droves to much cheaper private cars and Anthony could see what he has built started to crumble in front of his very eyes. He was forced to take Uber by the horns and added private cars to its app and gave its fierce competitor a run for the money.
On January 28, 2016, MyTeksi was rebranded into Grab, having expanded to other services such as GrabTaxi, GrabCar, GrabBike, GrabHitch and GrabExpress. Apart from offering a variety of rides and delivering food, groceries and parcels, it is also facilitating cashless payments and insurance covers.
On March 26, 2018, Grab announced that it will acquire all of Uber’s Southeast Asia assets, confirming rumours that have been floating around the highly competitive ride-hailing market. And the rest is history. – NST ONLINE
- The writer is Asean Tourism Master Trainer